5 Things: Gold pursuit begins in Nordic combined

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - To be furthest on the jumping hill, followed by fastest on the cross-country ski course: that’s the ultimate goal for Nordic combined athletes as they begin their quest Sunday for Sochi Olympics gold.

They’ll have a training session on the normal hill followed by another on a 10-kilometer cross-country course, and do the same on Monday and Tuesday before Wednesday’s gold medal final in the individual normal hill.

It’s the first of three Nordic combined gold medals to be awarded at Sochi - the individual large hill gold is set for Feb. 18 and the team large on Feb. 20.

Here are five things to know about the Nordic combined events at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center:

A COURSE TO CALL THEIR OWN: Nordic combined athletes will race on their own cross-country course for the first time at an Olympic Games - they have traditionally used the course built for biathletes and cross-country skiers. So instead of athletes and spectators needing to shift locations - sometimes a trip of up to four hours at previous Olympics - they’ll have to travel just 150 meters from the ski jumping compound to start the cross-country race.

PERSONAL DUEL: Jason Lamy Chappuis is the defending normal hill champion from 2010, but he’ll face a big challenge from Eric Frenzel of Germany. Since the 2010-11 season, each man has won 14 individual World Cup events and between them swept the gold medals in the four individual events at the last two world championships. Coming into Sochi, Frenzel is the clear favorite, having won the World Cup title last season and seven events in 11 starts this season.

IN THE MIX: Akito Watabe of Japan has made five individual World Cup podiums this season and is a distant second behind Frenzel. He could win Japan’s first individual Olympic Nordic combined medal since 1994. “This is my third Olympics, of course I strive for the gold - with my whole heart,” Watabe said Saturday. There is a strong quartet from Norway, which is where the sport began - Magnus Hovdal Moan, Magnus Krog, Haavard Klemetsen and Mikko Kokslien.

FIGURING IT ALL OUT: Nordic combined events use the Gundersen method, developed by Gunder Gundersen of Norway in the 1980s. Under the Gundersen method, in individual events the cross-country portion of the race is a pursuit in which the athlete who won the ski jumping phase begins first, followed by the remaining athletes in order of their finish in ski jumping. Every point that a competitor finishes behind the leader in ski jumping equals a four-second handicap on the start line in cross-country race. The format of the two individual events is one jump on each hill, followed by the 10-kilometer ski race.

MALE-ONLY BASTION: Nordic combined is the sole male-only sport at the Winter Olympics, but that could change and Russian athletes are leading the way. The International Ski Federation says nearly 100 women are training in the Perm region under the direction of former Russian Olympian Denis Tishagin.

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